TAMPA, Fla. — The crack of a bat.

The pop of a ball in a glove.

The sounds of a University of Tampa baseball game get a little overshadowed by its sights. The view of the downtown Tampa skyline provides a perfect backdrop for the defending National Champs.

  • The University of Tampa is highlighting its sports history with a series on its website
  • The series is written by former Tampa Tribune sports writer Joey Johnston
  • UT's rich sports history includes an NFL overall No. 1 pick, John Matuszak in 1973.

"This is like a hidden gem," said UT historian Joey Johnston. "I know people wander over here and go to a game or see the facility and they’re like, wow, I can’t believe this exists."

UT’s baseball success is well documented and celebrated. But it’s not the only Spartans sport worthy of recognition.

"For a school that’s just sort of tucked in the downtown corridor, people would be surprised at all the people that have played sports here and thrived," Johnston said.

People like baseball greats Lou Piniella and Tino Martinez and Tampa mayor Jane Castor, a 1,000-point shooter for the Spartans and member of the school’s Hall of Fame.

"The history is incredibly rich," Johnston said.

And history needs to be told. That’s where Johnston, a Tampa native, comes in. The former Tampa Tribune sports writer has been documenting the Spartans rich history for a series on the school’s website.

"We want our history to be known," UT Athletic Director Larry Marfise said.

And not just because it documents the past. But because it affects the future.

"We’d like the story to get out there and be told," Marfise said. "Also, from a standpoint of our student athletes, we’d like them to know that they’re building on a rich history."

Wanna impress sports fans with some UT football knowledge?

"Here’s your kill shot for Trivia Night," Johnston said. "Name the three Florida schools who have had the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. 

That’s an easy one, everyone’s going to say Florida, Florida State and Miami, right? Well, that’s not correct. Florida State, yes. Miami, yes. 

But the third one is the University of Tampa."

John Matuszack was the first pick of the 1973 NFL Draft, taken by the Houston Oilers.

"John Matuszack became an NFL legend, but it all started right here at the University of Tampa," Johnston said.

A step inside the school’s Martinez Center and you’re surrounded by some serious sports history, including a football program that no longer exists.

"Growing up in Tampa, I went to a lot of those games, so it’s not like I’m writing about something that I’m just looking up and reading about," Johnston said. "I experienced these things."

Before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there was UT Football. With players who honed their skills in the Bay area before hitting it big in the NFL.

"The Tampa Spartans were the really big game in town on Saturday nights," he said. "And you had Freddie Solomon, incredible quarterback, one of the best football players I’ve ever seen, John Matuszack. You had NFL players at every turn and you had a very competitive team that was beating some big schools."

Memories worth reliving. Memories worth preserving. 

A simple click on the University of Tampa’s sports website and you see Johnston’s worked highlighted. A lot of stories already told and so many more to share.

"I don’t think we’ll ever run out of stories, actually," he said. "I don’t see any end to it because there’s so much to tell."